Prompt: Three allies on a cliché journey to save the world from an evil god and all three can turn into animals.
Gwen, Rupert, and Odric were dispensed from the tiny township they’d always called home in order to be heroes. They weren’t the only ones of course. Opportunities for heroism didn’t come up very often, and when they did every village with a population housing more than one family offered up at least one candidate for the quest.
The three of them were young, in the early days of their third decade, and they had not presented as marriage material, so it was better to toss them out and hope they could either make something of themselves or die. Currently they traveled one of the roads outside what used to be the friendliest kingdom in the realm. They were caught up in a crowd of other potential heroes, many carrying weapons, lances, spears, and swords, that they had no idea how to use.
“I’m getting squished. I didn’t expect heroes to have such foul body odor,” Gwen said, shouldering her way through people to catch up with her fellow brave outcasts.
“Of course heroes smell!” Odric hollered, grabbing a stranger’s shoulder and shaking it like they were the best of friends. “It is the sweat of valor!” He was immediately pushed out, off into the grass. Gwen and Rupert followed. Gwen had not been granted any weapons, and her companions used their spears as walking sticks. They were easy marks for the purple-robed figure resting under a giant conifer at the roadside. A hand emerged from the robe and fanned the scent from some of the wares towards the would-be heroes.
“Perhaps we can find some affordable equipment here,” Rupert suggested, wiping his nose on his sleeve. Allergies assailed him, and he still hoped that the right shield or sword could make him look like less of a snot-dripping mess. The three wandered over to the robed figure. Their face was not visible, and their sex could not be determined from their gravelly voice, like a crocodile trying to coax a songbird out of its tree with a throaty melody.
“Welcome heroes,” the figure said. “Everything here is on sale. One silver coin. I’m leaving town now that the Venomaster has moved into the castle.”
“That’s where we’re all going,” Gwen added. “Well we have to adventure first… and then go to the castle. Then we’ll fight the Venomaster and take back the land. I do need to get a weapon first though. Do you have any knives? I’ve always pictured myself cutting somebody’s throat from beyond.” Rupert and Odric each took a step away from her. “Not you fellows! Someone who annoys me, or is generally evil, or disrespectful.”
“You don’t need a weapon,” the figure insisted. They reached out and snagged a lidded earthen pot from their wares and opened it. The three outcasts leaned in, seeing only a swirled mix of tan and brown powders. “You don’t need to adventure either. I’ve done all that already. An adventure would net you only experiences and talents. This powder is a fine substitute. It will grant you the sort of power a hero often has.”
“What power is this?” Odric asked. He tried to sniff the powder, but the merchant pulled it away, stroking the side of the pot audibly with long brown nails.
“The power to transform into an animal. How many legends have you heard, built on the back of such a power? Knights turning to bright white horses. Mothers protecting their children as mighty bears. I hear the Venomaster has a stomach full of snakes and a mouth full of their poison. All you need to do is turn into something that eats snakes.”
“Why is such a power only one silver?” Rupert asked. He had run out of sleeves to wipe his nose on, so he turned around and sneezed back towards the road. The entire procession of heroes bent out of the way.
“You are clever to notice,” the merchant said. “This vessel contains the powdered magical essence of many animals. They were not supposed to be mixed, but I had a misadventure with a now-dead business partner and some illegible labels. If you take me up on my offer I do not know which animal you will get. If you do you should inhale the powder immediately and head for the castle so you can beat all the others. The first transformation will be slow and involuntary, but after that you’ll have the hang of it.”
The trio looked at the powder and then at the sad procession of similar souls. Many would die on their quests no doubt, no magic acquired at all. The Venomaster would never even curse their names, or know them. They decided it was worth the risk and the silver. Each handed over a coin, took one pinch of the powder, and inhaled. They would stay together, increasing the chance that at least one of them had successfully taken the essence of a cobra-fighting mongoose or a viper-snatching eagle.
They took their leave of the merchant, they still had no idea why the poor creature had so few customers, and headed deeper into the kingdom, towards the usurped throne and castle. As they went all the other heroes scattered to the winds, off to do things the slow way. The trio arrived at the giant stone stairs leading to the portcullis utterly alone, though that was soon remedied when the guards returned from relieving themselves behind the nearest tree.
They wore snake helms, proving the trio were in fact at the right castle, and they charged immediately. Gwen, Rupert, and Odric ran up the stairs, but that was the moment the powder decided to finally take effect. Rupert slowed down and stumbled as his legs shrank. He tried to cry out, but his mouth was more of a snout at that point. A moment later an armadillo crawled out of his clothes and got its belly stuck between two stairs.
Odric made it a little further before becoming similarly immobilized. He wound up on his back, flexing his horseshoe crab legs, trying to flick his own spear off him. That left only Gwen, and the guards were on the stairs already. Luckily, she had turned into the perfect animal for the situation. She snatched up her companions, one in each hand, and ran up the stairs faster than the guards could follow.
Her new form was very strong; she was able to stuff the armadillo and the crab into her bag, throw it over her shoulder, scale the uneven stone of the wall, and throw herself into a window. From there it was a short run to the throne where the Venomaster sat, stroking a pile of snakes in his lap.
“We’re here to take the castle back!” Gwen declared. She tossed the crab and the armadillo to the left and right, so they could flank the evil speaker of serpents. Odric landed upside down once more, but flailed with great valor and dignity.
Gwen was able to grab, run, climb, and speak, because the powder had turned into a human being. It was a simple fact that often escaped the people of the world; they were categorized as animals no matter now much clothing they put on or how many lies they told. She hadn’t been turned into the same human being, for that would be absurd; she was now a dark-skinned man, nearly seven feet tall, and with bulging muscles and a deep rippling voice.
“I admit you’re an intimidating figure,” the Venomaster hissed. The snakes on his lap dispersed, dripping to the castle floor like hot wax. He stood. In a moment he was right in Gwen’s face, all pale green skin and fangs. A cobra emerged from his mouth and tried to bite her.
She grabbed it and squeezed, her new strength instantly killing it. Her new mind was a little smarter, and an idea had grown in it. There was still a little powder under one of her nails. She jammed her hand into the Venomaster’s mouth and made sure it came loose, dropping into his snake-infested stomach. A moment later she backed up, flinging the spittle from her brutish hand.
The Venomaster contorted. The magic had worked on the trio quite slowly, but the evil man had become accustomed to such forces. His body reacted immediately, transforming him into a human being. Once again, it was not the same human being. This one was much smaller, much higher-pitched, and much nicer. He immediately returned the throne, handing over authority to mighty masculine Gwen, the armadillo, and the horseshoe crab.
In the end, the kingdom wound up with a very interesting crest and wax seal for all its letters: the three idiotic animals and a silver coin representing their shrewd purchase.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by TazztheTexan during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!